Foursquare vs. Gowalla – The SXSW Showdown that Wasn’t

Heading into SXSW Interactive this year, everyone was talking about an eminent showdown between the top two location-based social networking services: Gowalla and foursquare. Both companies released updates and enhancements just before the conference started; and, I’m sure both hoped they would take off with users like Twitter did after SXSW Interactive 2007.
Texas Showdown Saloon sign
I have been playing foursquare for a few months and feel a bit guilty for not supporting Austin’s home team Gowalla. It came about that way simply because foursquare is the first one I heard about. Several of my Twitter friends were tweeting their foursquare check-ins and it made sense to go where the people I was already connected to were going.

During SXSW, I tried like heck to win some of the special badges foursquare unveiled for the event, to no avail. But, I certainly didn’t make the shift that Jeff Pulver described in an e-mail that Misae “Minxymoggy” Richwoods shared on her blog this week:

“A community of twitter faithful shifted from sharing everything about everything on only twitter (and maybe Facebook) and changed their habits to rely on learning about what was happening and where things were happening by using foursquare and Gowalla instead.”

No, I was still relying very much on Twitter as my means of communicating with friends and finding out what was happening around the conference, as I mentioned in my post recapping a Core Conversation about Second Life.

My use of foursquare at SXSW was all about the badges (maybe trying to make up for not being a Girl Scout when I was little?); and, quite frankly, when I was unable to secure them after name-dropping, staying out late on a school night, making it to the early panels, and attending a SXSW Music show, the lily lost of bit of its gild.

Aside from throwing competing parties on the same day at the same time, I didn’t really see any showdown between foursquare and Gowalla, either. Nothing visible like the TV screens in the convention center showing Twitter feeds in years past, or anything like the Zappos takeover of what attendees wore when they handed out ponchos from their trade show booth on a rainy day one year. I don’t have bandwidth to be active in both services, so I wasn’t seeing Gowalla from the inside. That may be part of why I didn’t see any showdown.

The other reason may have been that as a 40-year-old mother, I’m not really their target demographic. I didn’t go to either company’s party, choosing instead to come home to my family that evening. And, I can go to all the places people were checking in at during SXSW any time I choose, unlike all the out-of-town visitors. But, let’s face it, I just don’t party like I used to. I’m not going to be the person Chase Straight describes when he notes “you know a night has been good when you look at your Twitter feed the next morning and see five or more check-ins.”

But, maybe there really wasn’t a showdown at all. Maybe as Jemima Kiss put it, “perhaps that just reflects how much the press and the crowd wanted to claim The New Twitter, etc. etc.” Headlines like “Hot Startups Battle To The Death Deep In The Heart Of Texas” are great fun to write.

And that fun didn’t seem to hurt anyone. Richard Whittaker pointed out in the Austin Chronicle, “neither Gowalla nor Foursquare delivered a killer blow this year, [but] both benefited from the national exposure.”

Photo credit: / CC BY-SA 2.0

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Privacy = Control: danah boyd Challenges Assumptions at SXSW

This is a story about control, my control
Control of what I say, control of what I do
And this time I’m gonna do it my way
-Janet Jackson

One of the best things you can take away from listening to someone speak is a new way of looking at the world. A challenge to your assumptions is the the path to real learning.

I thought I had a pretty good knowledge of online privacy issues. I also thought I’d read enough from researcher danah boyd that I didn’t really need to go listen to her keynote presentation at SXSWi. I was wrong. 

For example, I’d never thought before about the difference between having someone ask you “ASL?” (age/sex/location) in a chat room, and having them go look up all that same information on you in an online profile. I would have thought someone asking me that in chat would be creepy, but now that I really think about it, it’s a little creepier when someone goes and finds those things out without asking you.

And that’s the point danah was making – that privacy is not just about how much of our information is out there, but rather about how much we feel in control of the release of our information. If people feel they don’t have control, they feel violated.
Control button on keyboard
“Neither privacy nor publicity is dead, but technology will make a mess of both,” boyd said.

Her rapid-fire speech was packed with great insight and I walked away realizing that I needed to challenge some of my own assumptions on the topic. One of the most interesting statistics I took away was around Facebook’s recent change to their privacy defaults. After the change, which rankled many, Facebook proudly told the FTC in December that about 40 percent of 220 million users made adjustments to their settings. That means however, as danah pointed out, about 262 million Facebook users made no change and all of their information defaulted to the most public settings.

That probably includes many of our spouses, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, and even grandmothers.

But it’s not just Facebook that’s made recent privacy blunders. danah spent much of her time talking about what Google did wrong with their launch of Google Buzz.

GigaOM reported afterwards that Buzz product manager Todd Jackson attended Boyd’s talk and found it “extremely insightful, fair and something we could work from.” He said he personally emailed Boyd afterwards and invited her to deliver the same talk at Google.

That makes me hopeful that many of the other technology companies at SXSWi heard danah when she said “How you handle the challenges of privacy . . . will affect a generation. Make sure you are creating a world you want to live in.”

Hopeful, but still cautious, that is. And mindful that those of us who are privileged enough (yes, privileged, unlike danah’s examples of illegal immigrants or abuse victims) to be able to live our lives in public need to do our part to educate our friends and families on how they can take control of their information online.

And so, I leave you here with a little more musical flashback from someone who definitely knows what it means to live your life in public.

Got my own mind
I wanna make my own decisions
When it has to do with my life, my life
I wanna be the one in control
-Janet Jackson

Image credit: / CC BY 2.0

Life After the Hype Cycle for Second Life

HypeOn the first day of SXSWi, I almost missed a Core Conversation (what SXSW describes as less formal hour-long sessions where a single moderator will introduce the topic to be discussed and then facilitate the conversation) titled “Second Life: Where Are They Now?” hosted by Mark Wallace and John Swords.

Luckily, I checked Twitter and saw Goldie Katsu mention that she was in the session. Then Ren Reynolds tweeted that the session was starting out like group therapy for SLers; so, I dashed from one end of the Austin Convention Center to the other to join in the conversation.

Some of the random things I heard included:

  • the big brands coming in were good for bringing more people in world, but not much else
  • educational use of the platform is hampered by ease of use
  • Linden Lab (the creator of Second Life) was not interesting in helping with large projects that could benefit the community
  • PC system requirements still restricted much use of the platform

I raised my hand several times, but didn’t interject myself into the conversation very boldly. After all, I was one of those responsible for bringing a big brand in-world, and the acknowledgement that those additions might have been not so bad was delivered very grudgingly.

And, in the end, I realized that all my various comments on the random bits of discussion could come back to one thing.

To answer the question raised by our moderators as to whether the hype cycle was good for Second Life or not, and could it be overcome, I kept coming back to how it all needs to become so much easier.

From the guy in education, to the composer trying to stage a large opera project, to the evangelists in large corporate organizations – all of our hopes and plans for the virtual world depend on how easy it is to use.  There was some discussion in the session of Sony Home and whether or not such console worlds were really a competitor to virtual worlds like SL. In the end, I think most agreed that they are because they’re so much easier for someone to drop into for a few hours when they have that rare bit of free time.

I think Linden is somewhat aware of the fact that things need to get easier, since their latest beta viewer is supposed to be designed to be more similar to web interfaces that appeal to average users. But, I wonder if they’re aware that it impacts even more than just the raw number of residents they can bring in-world.

When you’re pitching a project in Second Life and the person you’re explaining it to can’t figure out how to get in world and what to do there, but can easily watch the television commercial or web site or video that is competing for the same budget dollars, you’re immediately handicapped.

I totally understand that Linden wants to simply be the platform provider, or to borrow the analogy Mark used in the conversation – they want to be the television, not the creators of the shows you watch on television. But, until their platform is as easy to turn on and engage with as the television (or the console game) is, they’re going to be fighting an uphill battle. And, so will those of us to see the opportunity and want others to share in our enthusiasm.

(image courtesy of funkandjazz via Creative Commons)

Making My SXSW List and Checking It Twice

Location-aware mobile marketing

  1. Laptop
  2. Laptop charger
  3. Smartphone
  4. Smartphone charger
  5. Flip camera
  6. Extra batteries for flip camera
  7. Moo cards
  8. Coke

That’s my list of things not to forget as I prepare to head down to the Austin Convention Center tomorrow for South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi). This will be my fourth SXSWi – a conference I told communicators two years ago they should attend, and I stand by that even more today as social media and all things digital pervade communication.

For those taking the advice and coming to Austin, I thought about posting some tips from my past experience; but, several others have already put together great lists for you.

CC Chapman (who I got to meet in person when I snuck into one of the SXSW Film panels last year) is a pro at the conference and made a great video with his SXSW advice. I won’t be taking his advice to ditch the laptop, however – mostly because I’ll be showing off one of my employer’s newest ones.

Web Worker Daily published their 10 Tips for Enjoying SXSW. They pegged our crazy unpredictable weather correctly. And the fact that you do a lot of walking.

SXSW Baby! has tips on how not to get sick, what to do upon arrival in Austin, and more.

The Glam Girl’s SXSWi Survival Guide has some great iPhone app suggestions to help you through the conference, and thanks to her for the illustration above that speaks to the location-based apps that will be all the rage at SXSWi this year. I have to disagree with her suggestion to skip the big bag, though, because I love taking my collection of them grocery shopping. Whether I ditch all the insides in the trash or they do, either way the paper is already wasted, so no eco-benefit to not getting the bag.

One thing you may be wondering about when looking at my list above is number eight – Coke. It’s my one unique bit of advice to share that no one else seems to have mentioned and only applies to those of us who are die-hard Coca-Cola drinkers. The Austin Convention Center concessions only serve Pepsi and while there are some Coke machines tucked away in far corners of the building, I’ve found they aren’t always working.  So better safe than sorry, I always bring one along with me to get me pumped with caffeine and sugar in the morning! 🙂

Be sure to give me a shout if you see me there!

Do We Really Need an International Women’s Day?

International Women’s Day logoThere are only a couple of hours left in International Women’s Day(IWD) as I sit down to write this post.

I’d like to say I’m so behind because I was out doing something amazing like those on this list of 100 women who changed the world, but I was just making my way through an average day.

An average day where I enjoyed the freedom to drive  to my job outside the home that pays me as well as my husband was paid in his last job. The job he left to spend the past year taking care of our daughter and our household. I came home to spend the evening relaxing and watching Chuck on television with that daughter who receives a great education in our public school system.

A girl being educated. A man taking responsibility for helping to raise her while his wife works. A woman being paid as much as a man for equal work. All these are things I enjoy without thinking that much about it. So, it’s easy to wonder if we really need a day to press for equality and other women’s issues.

I can agree with much that this woman who’s name I can’t find on her opinion piece on IWD in Rwanda:

Now that most countries have come round to develope enabling policies and programs, more effort should be put into getting men to understand and appreciate this drive, as opposed to pushing it down their throats through affirmative action-one reason why, at the mention of the word gender, everyone automatically starts thinking ‘women’.

I mean, do we really need someone to give flowers to the Spanish Equality Minister once a year just because she’s a woman?

No, we do not. But, as long as there are places where girl’s aren’t receiving an education just because they’re girls. Or they’re being married off at age 10 and having their genitals mutilated (two of the women’s stories highlighted by Huffington Post today). Or women aren’t allowed to even drive, much less to a job. Or, women aren’t being compensated equal to men for equal work at that job.

Then we still have work to do and a special day to remind us of that every year is a good thing.

A Journalist’s Grudging Nod to Public Relations and Marketing

He likes us! He really likes us!

Just couldn’t resist a quick post (and the Sally Field Oscar acceptance reference) when I saw the review of Reebok’s ZigTech sneakers on FastCompany’s web site this morning. So often those of us in the communications professions of public relations and marketing get a bad rap as snake oil salesman.

But today, Dan Nosowitz actually admitted a certain desire for someone to take a commodity such as sneakers and try to make them more interesting:

“I expect this sort of rhetoric from a sneaker company. I’d be really disappointed if the press release just read ‘We think these shoes are comfy and flashy! Please buy them.'”

And remember that while rhetoric may seem to be damning with faint praise, the primary definition of the word is “the art of speaking and writing effectively.”  So, I’ll take Mr. Nosowitz’s statement as a compliment and an affirmation that business communicators play a vital role.

And just what is all that fuss about? Here’s a picture of the new shoe from the Reebok website:
Reebok ZigTech sneaker

Think I kinda want a pair, too…

[UPDATE: Mitch Joel started a great conversation on his Six Pixels of Separation blog today about Making Marketing Matter. He notes: “We are finally in a day and age where it’s not simply about creating a message and pushing it out to four channels ad nauseam until you submit the viewers into buying whatever it is that you are selling. Real Marketing (and yes, Marketing is real) is about how the product is created, why it matters, how to price it and how to service it. It’s also about how to make these stories spread, how to get people to really care, and how to keep them loyal.” The whole post is a good read and many commentors have answered his question of “What can we do together to make Marketing matter more?”]